July 6, 2015

Reducing drug abuse - intervention through education

Teenager deaths from drug overdose and abuse now exceed their deaths from motor vehicle accidents, according to a 2013 study by SAMHSA. This is the first time that drugs surpassed car accidents as one of the leading causes of the death of teenagers.

A report published at Drugfree.org showed that “heavy” marijuana use among teenagers is up 80 percent, with one in 10 teens reporting that they use the drug at least 20 times a month. And according to the NIDA, prescription and over-the-counter medications are some of the most commonly abused drugs by high school seniors. A survey of teenagers by the CDC in 2009 found that one in five teenagers had taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription.

According to NIDA, the estimated economic cost to society due to substance abuse and addiction is $524 billion a year.

It appears there is an overwhelming moral and economic justification to increase substantially the level of effort being applied to prevent drug use by school aged children.

According to NIDA, “Decades of research have revealed addiction to be a disease that alters the brain. We now know that while the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary, drug addiction is a disease of the brain that compels a person to become singularly obsessed with obtaining and abusing drugs despite their many adverse health and life consequences. Science has come a long way in helping us understand how drugs of abuse change the brain.”

“Research has revealed that addiction affects the brain circuits involved in reward, motivation, memory, and inhibitory control. When these circuits are disrupted, so is a person’s capacity to freely choose not to use drugs, even when it means losing everything they used to value. In fact, the inability to stop is the essence of addiction, like riding in a car with no brakes.”

Addiction usually begins in adolescence, so early intervention is critical. Educating children on the adverse effects of using drugs should begin as early as the 4th grade. These young children need to understand that taking that first pill or smoking that first “joint” may very well start them down a path that they will never be able to get away from. They need to understand that drugs change their brains in such a way that they begin to lose their ability to make good choices.

Intervention through education is our single best way to reverse this devastating trend of increasing drug use by so many of our children.

Rex A. Hoover